Global Dynamics

Inteligence Profiling


The purpose of intelligence analysis is “From a conceptual point of view, intelligence as a practice exists to illuminate the obscure, to forecast what is yet to come, to explain the ‘iceberg’ of truth beneath the tip of what can be seen.” (McDowell 2009) Intelligence analysis can be broken down into two subfields they are strategic defined by the Pentagon as “Intelligence that is required for the formulation of strategy, policy, and military plans and operations at national and theater level” (McDowell 2009) and tactical intelligence defined as “focus on identifying the enemy's application of these principles. Mass and economy of force are the most critical.” (Military) Strategic intelligence is a long term project that seeks to identify potential threats to national security, whereas tactical intelligence is used to maintain immediate goals, meaning that tactical intelligence can be utilized by military commanders as they engage in planned actions.

No matter what type of intelligence is being collected there is always the potential for catastrophic intelligence failures to occur. These failures are events that were not predicted by the intelligence community that poses a major threat to the national security of the United States. As intelligence gathering can be broken down into strategic and tactical intelligence failures can be broken down into minor (relatively speaking) and catastrophic failure. Minor failures will occur regardless of how efficient an intelligence agency or intelligence community may be. Examples minor failure includes the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets in 1979. While these events impacted international relations there was no major impact on the national security of the United States. Catastrophic failures on the other hand do have a major impact on national security, examples of this type of failure include the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks.

These two events are viewed separately due to the fact that they served as precipitating factors to the establishment and/or restructuring of the United States Intelligence community. The modern intelligence community (established with the national security act of 1947 through the 9/11/2001 attack) came into existence due to the fact that the US intelligence community was unable to connect the dots that would have led to identification of the threat posed by the Japanese to Pearl Harbor. The established community remained relatively static until the events of 9/11 where the intelligence community was restructured in an attempt to make it more efficient.

This research report will focus on the intelligence failures of Pearl Harbor and 9/11 and compare and contrast events that led to both failures to demonstrate that the Intelligence Community has not taken the proper steps to ensure that another catastrophic intelligence failure will not occur in the future.

Literature Review:

The intelligence community has one primary function that is to “provide accurate and meaningful information and insights to consumers in a form they can use at the time they need them” (Chapter 8 Improving Intelligence Analysis). In and of itself, intelligence analysis is designed to give insight to decision makers such as political leaders, military commanders or law enforcement personnel. This information will be used to determine how to interact with foreign nations, what the military capacity of nations are and/or tactical information needed for battle plans and by law enforcement personnel to determine threats to national security in a specific area.

While intelligence analysis is designed to offer information regarding future threats and battle assessments to military leaders, there is only so much that can be done from the analytical level, for example “Many intelligence products warn policy makers of future possibilities. If analysts wait until they are confident in their warning, then they will have waited too long because policy makers will not have time to prepare. Less accurate early warnings are much more useful to policy makers.” (Lehner, Michelson, and Adelman 2010) It is at times difficult to determine when to sound the warning bell with strategic intelligence, if I&W is offered to early, the intelligence will not be applicable, waiting too long and the intelligence will no longer be tactical or applicable. As this has demonstrated there are many pitfalls in intelligence and/or intelligence failures. Failure of intelligence is bound to occur, due to the fact that no one is perfect and accidents will happen. The fall of the Soviet Union and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan are examples of an intelligence failure, however there is an additional type of intelligence failure.

The purpose of this research report is to identify the reasons for catastrophic intelligence failure. Cases of catastrophic failure are large scale damage, loss of life conducted by rogue nations, non-state actors and lone-wolf terrorists. “Counter-terror intelligence would have caused these decision makers that I mentioned -- governor, mayor, law enforcement executives, sheriffs -- to make decisions to warn and protect the public before an attack." (Kertscher 2015) Intelligence failure, including catastrophic failure will occur from time to time. However it is important to identify why failures occur to improve intelligence collecting and analysis in an effort to mitigate future catastrophic damage.

Intelligence failure does not occur due to a lack of intelligence, they occur due to the inability to connect the dots and place them into a cohesive picture and also occur when analysis wait too long to sound the warning bells about future threats. As the 9/11 commission states “The 9/11 attacks were a shock, but they should not have come as a surprise. Islamist extremists had given plenty of warning that they meant to kill Americans indiscriminately and in large numbers. Although Usama Bin Ladin himself would not emerge as a signal threat until the late 1990s, the threat of Islamist terrorism grew over the decade.” (The 9/11 Commission Report) Intelligence was available that indicated a serious threat to US national security was growing throughout the 1990s and that Usama Bin Ladin was responsible for the growing threat, yet no action was taken to harden potential terror threats before the 9/11 attacks, and as the threat grew the intelligence community was not sharing information among themselves meaning that the intelligence that did exist was fractured and could not be made into a complete picture by any one intelligence organization. Similarly the Pearl Harbor intelligence failure was due to the inability/unwillingness of intelligence to share information, not on the lack of accurate intelligence information. “That picture was not seen in full because of inadequate intelligence-sharing among government agencies, faulty U.S. assumptions about Japan’s appetite for carrying out such a brazen attack, and rivalries within the U.S. intelligence community.” (Friedman 2012) Any change in intelligence policy that may potentially mitigate future catastrophic failure will have to include the ability and willingness for intelligence agencies to share information among one another so that future threats are identified sooner and that complete threats are understood and communicated to the proper decision makers.

Additionally it is believed that intelligence failures may be due in part to a failure to provide actionable intelligence to decision makers “that the problem underlying warning/intelligence failures has not been the lack of strategic intelligence or inability of analysts to "connect dots." Rather, it has been inadequate collection-failing to provide tactical intelligence of sufficient specificity to allow decision-makers to take action. Preventing future surprises will involve improving tactical-level intelligence collection. Emphasizing strategic-level assessments, reorganizing intelligence entities, or improving analysis might be valuable efforts in themselves, but they will do little to prevent surprise terrorist attacks.” (Brooks 2013) The problem with this suggestion is the fact that lack of specific intelligence is due in large part to the inability to connect the dots and place them in a cohesive intelligence picture. If intelligence organizations are not communicating with one another it is difficult to provide actionable intelligence and therefore is a lack of ability to connect the dots.

The asseveration that intelligence failures due to a lack of actionable intelligence as opposed to an inability to connect the dots to complete an accurate picture can be found in the Pearl Harbor attack, “An attack on Pearl Harbor was seen as all but excluded. Though senior army and navy officers knew that Japan had often started wars with surprise attacks, and though the naval air defense plan for Hawaii warned of a dawn assault, officials also knew that the base was the nation's best defended and that the fleet had been stationed that far west not to attract, but to deter, Japan” (Kahn 1991). Intelligence that related to a potential attack on Japan was all but discounted for invalid reasons, Japan used the surprise attack against enemies in previous wars, it would have stood to reason that Japan would use this approach with the United States, however this potential was disregarded even in the face of intelligence that indicated that such an attack was imminent for example “In her 1962 study, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, Roberta Wohlstetter argues, "We failed to anticipate Pearl Harbor not for want of the relevant materials, but because of a plethora of irrelevant ones." In the terms of information theory that Wohlstetter uses, this means that the noise was too great for the signal to be picked out. But she errs. There was a dearth of intelligence materials. Not one intercept, not one datum of intelligence ever said a thing about an attack on Pearl Harbor. There was, in Wohlstetter's terms, no signal to be detected. Intelligence officers could perhaps have foreseen the attack if the United States, years before, had insinuated spies into high-level Japanese military and naval circles, flown regular aerial reconnaissance of the Japanese navy, put intercept units aboard ships sailing close to Japan to pick up naval messages that a greatly expanded codebreaking unit might have cracked, or recruited a network of marine observers to report on ship movements. The intelligence failure at Pearl Harbor was one not of analysis, as Wohlstetter implies, but of collection.” (Kahn 1991). Whether it is called non-specific or actionable intelligence or an inability to connect dots, the concept remains the same. For whatever reasons a clear and concise intelligence picture is unavailable and this is the cause of intelligence failure. Intelligence does not fail because there is a lack of intelligence it fails due to the inability to those collecting the intelligence to clearly communicate findings among each other and to consumers of intelligence. The fact that lack of actionable or specific intelligence and the inability to connect the dots are different sides of the same intelligence problem comes from the thoughts of O’Connell when he states that “"The people that needed the information we had didn't get the information. In Pearl Harbor, that was Admiral Kimmel." In 9/11, Kimmel said the key communication breakdowns between the CIA and FBI related to two of the eventual terrorists may have prevented the U.S. from thwarting the tragedy.” (O’Connell 2011)

All of the above factors play into catastrophic intelligence failures that come from lack of communication between intelligence organizations, inability to connect the dots to create an accurate intelligence picture, lack of specific information an inability to communicate intelligence to decision makers all share a part of intelligence failure. Before any lasting changes can be made, these failures must be fixed or at the very least the problems need to be mitigated.

Thus far Pearl Harbor and 9/11 have been identified as similar events. Counter research exists that demonstrates that the reason being Pearl Harbor and 9/11 are not similar and therefore both events should be examined independently. “My conclusion is that 7 December and 11 September are more dissimilar than they are alike. First, while it is possible to see an "intelligence failure" as a cause of both events, the nature of that failure was quite different: the American commanders in Hawaii in 1941 had sufficient information justifying a higher state of vigilance, while those safeguarding U.S. airlines, the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon did not.” (Borch 2003) The differences between Pearl Harbor and 9/11 are based on strategic and tactical intelligence. In the case of Pearl Harbor the intelligence required was tactical or intelligence that is to be used by military commanders to assist with developing battle plans. For whatever reason intelligence never made it to the decision makers at Pearl Harbor (military leaders) the same cannot be said for 9/11 where the threat was one of national security, the targets were civilian and the intelligence required was strategic or long term in nature. In the case of 9/11 it became important that intelligence personnel were able to communicate information/intelligence to civilian authorities (New York Police Department) to have prevented the attack, this never occurred. In addition to this while long term strategic intelligence was being collected regarding the threat to national security no one organization was responsible for collecting all intelligence and as such there was no way to complete the intelligence picture that would have given effective warning of the threat posed by extremists.

Part of the failure of intelligence during 9/11 comes from the methods that are used by policy makers to explain how the world works. The primary theory used by international relations professionals to explain relations between nations is realism. According to this theory “Realism focuses on the shifting distribution of power among states.” (Snyder 2004) this theory that only actors that matter on the international states are the states themselves therefore non-state actors will never impact the nature of international relations. This theory proved short sighted on the part of the intelligence and decision making community due to the fact that the threat posed by Al Qaeda (a non-state actor) was ignored. If more effort was put into identifying the threat posed by a non-state actor is it possible that intelligence necessary to prevent 9/11 would have been gathered.

Even as American was attacked by non-state actors, there is still the prevailing belief that the state is the primary influence in international relations. If this view continues there will still be difficulty in identifying future national security threats. “Realism gets some things right about the post-9/11 world. The continued centrality of military strength and the persistence of conflict, even in this age of global economic interdependence, do not surprise realists. The theory's most obvious success is its ability to explain the United States' forceful military response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.” (Snyder 2004). Within the United States the realist theory is valid, the government is the most powerful actor on the international stage, however not every nation is as strong or powerful as America, meaning that there is more potential for foreign nations to be impacted by the non-state actor, and also requires that the United States will have to modify its view of the non-state actor. As more developing nations slip into criminal states (narco –states) the threat of the non-state actor will increase therefore the United States needs to be prepare itself for all future threats. Not just the threats that fit into the realism box.

Just prior to the attacks on 9/11 there was intelligence that indicated that “during the spring and summer of 2001, U.S. intelligence agencies received a stream of warnings that al Qaeda planned, as one report put it, "something very, very, very big." Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet told us, "The system was blinking red." (The 9/11 Commission Report 2004) Those warnings were ignored. Intelligence failure did not occur due to a lack of intelligence, the failure occurred due to the inability of the intelligence community to accurately identify threats in an expedient amount of time. However, the common theory was that the United States had limited information regarding the threats prior to 9/11 and took steps to increase the level and amount of intelligence collected, as such “Intelligence experts and military leaders often assume that the goal of intelligence work is to gather as much information as possible in order to formulate a more comprehensive picture of the world. The United States, in particular, has become a global epicenter of intelligence work-4.2 million US citizens, more than 10% of the country's population, have some form of security clearance.” (Young 2013) The United States now collects mountains of intelligence about everything in an attempt to have the best possible intelligence that will assist in both strategic and tactical decision making, however this increase in intelligence gathering has backfired “The US intelligence community is currently inundated with information. This poses a serious challenge to effective intelligence work. Overwhelmed by data, analysts lose the ability to pick out what is important and fail to make good judgments.” (Young 2013) Now so much intelligence is being collected, intelligence analysts are being indunitated by information to the point where they are experiencing information overload and are more likely to miss intelligence that will warn of future attacks. Instead of allowing for ease of communication between intelligence agencies, the US government simply offered more methods of intelligence collection and have still not solved the initial problem.


As of January 2015, the United States deployed “more than 400 soldiers to train Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State along with hundreds of U.S. support personnel, a Pentagon spokesman said” (Stewart, and Perry 2015) These advisors are being sent to assist the rebels fight the long term Syrian civil war. In addition to this, violent opposition to US/US backed Iraqi government has been taking place across Iraq due to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) (CBSNews 2015) During the US led occupation of Iraq “The United States spent billions of dollars training and equipping Iraq's army during its eight-year intervention, only to see security forces crumble last summer when ISIS swept across northern Iraq, capturing the country's second largest city Mosul.” (CBSNews 2015) The security situation in Iraq is devolving and the nation is slowly slipping toward failed state status that is occupied by an insurgent group (non-state actor) that poses a threat to the national security of the US. Because of this there are potential threats that will be coming from both Syria and Iraq and the failures that led to both Pearl Harbor and 9/11 need to be identified and rectified before another attack becomes imminent.

Terrorism remains a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States. As these issues appear to be continuing it becomes vital that the US intelligence community works together in an attempt to present the most clear and helpful intelligence possible. The purpose of this research report has been to demonstrate where some of the short comings of the intelligence community lie.

Case study research was used to complete this task. Initial research was based on the attack on Pearl Harbor and the type of intelligence that was and was not present at the time of the attacks. In addition to this research was conducted to trace the beginning of the intelligence community as it grew and changed during and after the Second World War.

Additional research was conducted on intelligence that was and was not resent in the months and years leading up to 9/11. This research indicated that there was more than ample evidence throughout the 1990s that an attack on the United States was going to occur. On the other hand, no such evidence existed regarding Pearl Harbor. This is due to the fact that the intelligence community as we know it was not established until after the Pearl Harbor attack.

Finally research was conducted that compared and contrasted with the events and intelligence available to the intelligence community before and after 9/11 and Pearl Harbor.

Historical research was also utilized to offer a background on what the political situation was like before and after the attacks. Both Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

Analysis and Findings:

Intelligence is a subjective activity, this means that the individuals involved in the intelligence collection and analysis are responsible for determine what information is important and what information will eventually reach the consumer of intelligence. It is erroneously believed that intelligence failures are due to a lack of intelligence, this is untrue, and intelligence failures stem from the inability of the intelligence community to paint a cohesive picture of a threat. The best way to go about fixing the intelligence community, steps needs to be taken so that the intelligence community will be able to communicate more effectively among organizations. Both Pearl Harbor and 9/11 are indications of catastrophic intelligence failures that could have been prevented if the proper intelligence were passed along to the right decision maker.

It should also be noted that intelligence failures occur among all intelligence organizations, not just the US intelligence community. For example Israel also has difficulty with preventing intelligence failures, “Intelligence failures are common phenomena among intelligence communities. Not surprisingly, the Israeli intelligence community has frequently failed in its strategic assessments as well as in its covert actions. Over time, a number of intelligence failures can be attributed to the three main Israeli intelligence organizations: military intelligence (Aman), domestic intelligence (the General Security Services, known as Shin Bet), and the Mossad. The failures are here divided into two categories; (1) strategic failures, namely those deriving from the failure to provide early warning. Such failures include the Yom Kippur War and the missed opportunity of embracing Egypt's peace overtures following the Yom Kippur War. And (2) covert action.”(Journal of Palestine Studies 2006) as indicated it is difficult to ensure that the proper information is collected and passed along to the proper person in an event to prevent intelligence failures. One of the primary failures is strategic that is long term intelligence that is not passed along to the decision makers in a proper amount of time. This research report has demonstrated that the threats posed to the US my fundamentalist Muslims and Osama bin Laden were planning major attacks in the United States and that the threat had been growing since the early 1990s. It remains unclear how much information was available regarding the threat posed by these groups. However, it is known that information was there and that a more cohesive picture was not painted because intelligence organizations were prevented from communicating with one another. However, this is not simply an US problem, all intelligence organizations have difficulty ensuring that proper information is passed along at the proper time. As such, it is important that intelligence organizations from friendly nations are also communicated with so that international agencies can assist with the identification of threats.

Intelligence failures occur, this is due to the fact that no one is perfect and intelligence cannot indicate threats 100% of the time. “Allegations of intelligence failure are a “given,” if for no other reason than the fact that politicians and public servants abhor being caught off guard, especially by a development that falls within their purview.” (Maior 2012) eventually an intelligence failure will occur with this being a given steps need to be taken that will mitigate the damage done during an intelligence failure. For example, the attack on Pearl Harbor may not have been able to be prevented, however if proper intelligence reached commanders it possible that ships could have been deployed and therefore not sitting ducks for the Japanese attack. Similarly steps could have been taken to increase airline security before 9/11 that could have prevented the attacks. In addition air traffic control may have been able to institute different practiced to identify rogue air craft.

There are similarities between the Pearl Harbor attacks and the 9/11 attacks, in that both of these events were catastrophic intelligence failures leading to major loss of life, both military and civilian and additionally led to an overhaul of how the US collects intelligence, as much as there are similarities between both of these events, there are also several differences. “One week after the attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice told the press corps, ‘This isn’t Pearl Harbor.’ No, it was worse. Sixty years ago, the United States (US) did not have a director of central intelligence or 13 intelligence agencies or a combined intelligence budget of more than $30bn to provide early warning of enemy attack. And just as intelligence was divided and diffuses on the eve of Pearl Harbor, there was no genuine intelligence community on the eve of September 11, 2001.” (Goodman 2003) Prior to Pearl Harbor there was not an organized intelligence community, therefore there was not one organization that was collecting intelligence that would eventually be passed along to decision makers. This it he reason for the intelligence failure, if intelligence is never passed along to those in a position to make changes and/or decisions about preventing the attack. Overall both Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were caused by an inability to communicate among one another and therefore were unable to prevent the attacks.

Just as important in communicating the potential for a terrorist attack is the factor of decision making “a number of scholars have concluded that decision-making failures have been to blame at least as often as intelligence failures.” (Brooks 2013) Collecting intelligence is only half the battle, as is communicating the intelligence. Intelligence is created to assist decision makers in making decisions. However, the best intelligence will be worthless if proper decisions are not made. As in the cases of the intelligence failures of the Pearl Harbor and 9/11 some individuals had the intelligence that stated that the United States was a target, yet to action was taken to prevent and/or to mitigate the impact of these attacks.

Simply stated “Betts argues that failures in intelligence are not only inevitable, but even natural because the failure is primarily a result of politics and psychology, rather than analysis and organization.” (Trujillo 2012) This additional example that state that intelligence failures will occur due to poor decision making. Intelligence analysis is subjective due to the fact that individuals are responsible for analyzing intelligence, this means that perception defines what types of intelligence are important and what types of intelligence can be ignored.

Equally as important when discussing intelligence failure is the failure of decision makers to actually make proper decisions. While the intelligence community and its inability to make proper connections regarding intelligence is only part of the issue. Once intelligence is collected it will do no good if those making decisions regarding intelligence make wrong decisions. “

The real puzzle about the pre-9/11 intersection of intelligence analysis and decision-making is the failure to implement effective policy despite strategic warning. It is, essentially, the failure of intelligence analysis to influence decision-making. As demonstrated above, intelligence analysts provided strategic warning of the threat from Al Qaeda. The primary problem was that decision-makers did not respond effectively to strategic warning. A 9/11 Commission staff statement asks a very pertinent question: ‘if officers at all levels questioned the effectiveness of the most active strategy the policymakers were employing to defeat the terrorist enemy, the Commission needs to ask why that strategy remained largely unchanged throughout the period leading up to 9/11’.” (Marrin 2011) Those in charge of collecting and analyzing intelligence are only responsible for part of the overall intelligence picture. Once intelligence is collected it is passed along to the decision maker. It is up to the decision maker to decide what, if anything should be done about a particular threat. As has been demonstrated with both Pearl Harbor and 9/11 there was intelligence to indicate a threat, and not all intelligence reached the right decision maker in an expedient amount of time, however what intelligence decision makers did have were not assessed properly and therefore no action or improper action was taken.


When it comes to intelligence analysis there is no magic wand that can be waved that will give actionable intelligence in an expedient amount of time so as to prevent any and all future intelligence failures. The truth of the matter is that intelligence failures will occur and the only best way to go about reducing the impact these events will have is to identify problems with the intelligence community and fixing those problems.

Both Pearl Harbor and 9/11 are examples of catastrophic intelligence failures meaning that there was a huge impact both economically and in terms of lives lost. These events are also similar in that part of what led to the failure was lack of communication between intelligence elements. There was more than ample evidence to indicate that Japan was going to attack a US target, but that information never reached a decision maker in enough time to prevent the attack. Prior to 9/11 there was also ample evidence that indicated that the United States was a prime terror target; again, due to lack of communication among intelligence agencies a clear and concise picture of the threat was not produced.

For any lasting change to take place in the intelligence community to negate the danger of intelligence failures there needs to be communication between those working in the intelligence community and decision makers. The other issue that has been outlined in this report is poor decision making. Even if the intelligence community does its job flawlessly there is still a potential stumbling block, that being decision makers making wrong decisions based around the intelligence they have received. Again, there was intelligence to indicate that Pearl Harbor and major air lines were at risk. However the decisions made were not to take any action, allowing terror attacks to occur in the US. Because poor decision making can also cause intelligence failure it becomes important for the intelligence community give as much information as possible regarding any specific risk so that the decision maker can make the best decision given the situation.

Another issue that has been outlined in this research report is the issue of strategic intelligence. Unlike tactical intelligence that is used to identify current threats, strategic intelligence is long term intelligence collection that attempts to identify future threats. When a threat is detected during strategic intelligence gathering it is difficult to determine when that information should be passed along to the decision makers. If intelligence is passed early and noting comes of it, future intelligence regarding this issue will be ignored. Waiting too long to pass along intelligence and the agencies involved run the risk of being too late to prevent an attack. This was the case during 9/11 there was more than ample intelligence that said the US was a terror target but this information was kept within the intelligence community until the proper time arises. When the intelligence was finally passed along to decision makers it was too late to actually prevent the intelligence failure.

To prevent future intelligence failures, the intelligence community must work among one another and communicate with one another so that intelligence can be placed into one cohesive picture. However that is only half of the battle. The decision makers also need to be an active part of the intelligence process, intelligence that never reaches the decision makers is just as useless as intelligence never collected.

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